3 employees escape as fire destroys Isabella County wood pellet company

 Ashley Selley
Ashley Selley (WJRT)
Published: Oct. 26, 2018 at 4:47 PM EDT
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(10/26/18) - A quick moving fire destroyed an Isabella County business Friday morning.

Roger Nelson was one of the three employees inside Isabella Pellet, 6900 W. Baseline Road, when the flames were spotted. A co-worker told him about the fire.

"I walked out of the control room and that was from the floor clear to the ceiling," Nelson said.

Nelson, who has worked for the company for about five years, tried to keep it from spreading. "Then I went back into the control room started shutting the plant down, shutting power off. And then the smoke got so bad I to get out."

Nelson and the two others made it out safely before the Nottawa-Sherman Townships Fire Department arrived just before 5 a.m. A total of seven fire departments were called in to help.

Village Manager Tim Wolff arrived shortly after the first firefighters made it there. "I could see flames on the office part of the building and in the shop, which was noticeably different than past fires they've had here where it was just a bunch of smoke. You know, a piece of equipment catches on fire. Where this, this was the entire structure."

Fire crews faced a few challenges including the highly flammable material inside the business.

"Worst component for fires, it's bad. Real bad," Nelson said.

Wolff said Isabella Pellet turns wood waste from sawmills into wood pellets for home heating and animal bedding.

A tanker task force also had to help keep a steady supply of water on hand as there is not a city water system in the village.

Around 11 a.m. tankers with diesel fuel were called in. The fire trucks had been on scene for so long they were running low on fuel.

"It's a tough day for everyone. You have to appreciate the men and women that volunteer to fight fire in rural areas because they've got jobs, they've got kids to take to daycare, I mean this, they've been here for over five hours, six hours at this point and time. You know that probably wasn't the Friday they had planned," Wolff said.

It's too early to know what started the fire, but Nelson said it did start in the shop area. "Just don't make no sense, it just totally doesn't make any sense at all."

Nelson said the business had insurance, but the people who work there don't have a job to return to right now.

"Yeah, it's a real hard," Nelson said. "Just hard to see your business go down, you know."

"You're getting close to the holiday season now, and you've got guys that are going to be laid off, cause this is not something that's going to be easily addressed in a weeks time to put back together," Wolff said.